Category Archives: writing

Writing resources: “Write a Novel” course by Crawford Kilian, and the “Writing Excuses” podcast

I have saved on my jump drive several short stories and a few drafts of a few chapters of a novel that I’ve been playing around with for 25 years. 25 years. I’m probably never going to get it done, but I can’t bring myself to delete these drafts. I’m not very good at following through with these things, even though I claim to love writing. Last year, I started off strong in a short story challenge. Write 12 short stories in 12 months, and for the first five months I nailed it. I’m not sure what happened in June. Or July. I’m sure I forgot about it by August. I think a couple of those stories are pretty good, and a couple of them are pretty bad. The bottom line, though, is I didn’t stick with it all year.

I buy books about writing, and for a while I put some of their guidance to work. I used to listen to the Writing Excuses podcast in my car, and get pumped up…until I sit down at the computer. Then I get distracted by Facebook or baseball cards or Twitter or my “real” job. I eventually gave up on listening to the podcast, as I never actually put any of the advice into practice.

Bottom line: I have a problem with motivation.

I want to write, but I just don’t do it. I need to change this. I need to set aside some time to write, to really focus on my novel idea, because until I get this two-and-a-half decade idea down on paper, I’ll never move on from it. It will always be a weight around my neck, a burden that prevents me from getting on with other ideas.

I don’t know if it will help, but I discovered a new resource by Crawford Kilian tonight. Kilian used to blog at “Writing Fiction” frequently, but like most blogs, the new posts started to tail off. A new post appears every once in a while, but it’s just not the same. However, early last year, he did offer a free resource: “Write a Novel,” an 18-lesson course for aspiring writers. While I don’t have the time to sit down and start it right away, I plan to go through the course in the coming months.

I also plan to start listening to the Writing Excuses podcast again. They have some great ideas. Who knows, maybe 2019 will finally be the year my characters come to life on the page they way they live in my mind.


Edgar Allan Poe wantlist

I still haven’t obtained any Edgar Allan Poe cards, but Night Owl’s post today made me aware of two more from 2010 A&G. If I’m going to try to get these, I suppose I need a wantlist, no? So here it is:

  • 1952 Topps “Look ‘n See” #79
  • 1992 Starline Americana #140
  • 2009 Topps American Heritage #4
  • 2009 Topps Mayo “Celebrated Citizens” #CC11
  • 2010 Allen & Ginter “World’s Wordsmiths”
  • 2011 Allen & Ginter “World’s Most Mysterious Figures”: The Poe Toaster #WMF2
  • 2011 Goodwin Champions #183
  • 2011 Obak “Princeton Brothers” #62
  • 2012 Golden Age #1
  • 2013 Garbage Pail Kids “Adam Bombing” #8

There is also a pretty cool Bicycle playing card deck that I may try to add to my currently non-existent collection at some point.

Dear A&G: Where’s Eddie?

The Night Owl posted a list on his blog last night of all the non-baseball subjects in Allen & Ginter since the brand’s 2006 inception. Has it really been around that long? I perused the list and only came up with a handful of cards that I would care to have in my collection: Jack the Ripper (2007), Bram Stoker (2008), George W. Bush (2011), Bobby Knight (2012), and Tommy Lee (2013). I had originally commented on his post that I only found four, but I had overlooked Stoker in my initial reading of the lists. A sixth would have been added if Mr. T was not identified as Clubber Lang in 2015. Hundreds of non-baseball cards in these baseball card sets, but only five that I would actually want.

As many others noted in the comments section, the checklist is getting worse each year. The biggest omission in my eyes is one of the greatest writers in American history, Edgar Allan Poe. You could make the case for other writers in the horror genre, such as H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Neil Gaiman, but Poe must come before all others.

Unlike Lovecraft, King, and Gaiman, however, Poe is not without cardboard glory. He was featured in the 1952 Topps “Look ‘n See” set, and the card is fairly affordable depending on condition. There is also the 1992 Starline Americana set, 2009 Topps American Heritage, 2009 Topps Mayo, 2011 Obak (which featured a younger Edgar along with his five brothers), 2011 Goodwin Champions, and 2012 Golden Age. I am almost ashamed to admit that I own none of these issues.

There is one other interesting Edgar Allan Poe card, and perhaps the one that I want above all others: the 2013 Garbage Pail Kids “Adam Bombing” Edgar Allan Poe. I’m a huge fan of GPK, and this card just captures everything there is to love about the brand’s irreverence.


One of these days I will load up my COMC cart with all the Poe cards I can afford. And I may pick up those five A&G non-baseball players I want at the same time.

I love writing

I always have loved writing. But getting published, that’s a whole different feeling. Two years in a row, I have seen my short “flash fiction” pieces published in the Ironology anthologies.

Ironology 2016

The 2016 edition of Ironology was published earlier this month, and includes two of my original stories: “Gone” and “Murder at the Junkyard.” I also have a short piece in Ironology 2015 called “Red & White Stripes.”

The Iron Writer Challenge is a weekly writing competition designed to sharpen one’s skills. I have not participated this year as other obligations and interests have limited my time in the worlds of my imagination, but it is a fantastic group of creative people. If you are interested in joining, please visit The Iron Writer Challenge website for more details.

Get a Grip on Your Grammar: 250 Writing and Editing Reminders for the Curious or Confused by Kris Spisak (2017)

Get a Grip on Your Grammar

Get a Grip on Your Grammar:
250 Writing and Editing Reminders for the Curious or Confused

by Kris Spisak
Career Press, 2017

It never ceases to amaze me how many people use “there,” “their,” and “they’re” incorrectly. The abuse of the English language is on full display on social media, on blogs, and even in printed materials. Call me a Grammar Nazi if you must (though I rarely point out another’s wrongness), but I cringe when I read “your special” or “its okay.” In light of the preponderance of grammatical errors in the twenty-first century, Kris Spisak’s Get a Grip on Your Grammar should be a prerequisite to obtaining a Facebook account, let alone writing a report for school or work.

The red banner on the front cover says it all: “A Grammar Book for Those Who Hate Grammar.” The English language can be confusing, and Spisak addresses with clarity and humor 250 common mistakes found in modern writing. There are five sections in the book: “Word Usage,” “Punctuation,” “Idioms,” “Business Writing and Etiquette,” and “Creative Writing and Storytelling.” What is the difference between “accept” and “except”? When should you use single quotation marks as opposed to double quotation marks? Is the proper phrase “for all intents and purposes” or “for all intensive purposes”? Spisak concisely explains all of these and more without going over the reader’s head.

Spisak also addresses the use of slang and jargon in professional writing, as well as several habits a writer should avoid. In the last section of the book, she writes about problems aspiring creative writers often face, and offers tips to edit many of those problems out of their pieces. While reading, I was reminded of several mistakes that I commonly make in my blog posts, church bulletin articles, and (for the moment) unpublished fiction. No doubt, I need to use “Ctrl” + “F” more often and trim my writing.

Get a Grip on Your Grammar is an indispensable resource that should be on every person’s bookshelf, whether that person is writing professionally, blogging, or just jotting thoughtful notes of encouragement to their friends and family.

Learn more about Career Press.

Purchase Get a Grip on Your Grammar: 250 Writing and Editing Reminders for the Curious or Confused by Kris Spisak.

Word counts

A Separate PeaceA writer writes, right? If you’re going to be a writer (or better yet, an author), you need to know what you’re getting yourself into. Want to write a novel? You need some idea of how many words you need to put on the page. As John Knowles wrote in A Separate Peace, “There was no harm in taking aim, even if the target was a dream.”

What follows is a list of fairly well-known books and word counts, from least to most. Some are classics, others are more recent productions. Make of it what you will.


George Orwell Animal Farm 29,060
John Steinbeck Of Mice and Men 29,572
Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451 46,118
F Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby 47,094
John Knowles A Separate Peace 56,787
William Golding Lord of the Flies 59,900
Nathaniel Hawthorne The Scarlet Letter 63,604
Aldous Huxley Brave New World 63,766
Alice Walker The Color Purple 66,556
John Green The Fault in Our Stars 67,203
John Green Looking for Alaska 69,023
Mark Twain The Adventures of Tom Sawyer 69,066
JK Rowling Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 77,508
Ransom Riggs Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children 84,898
Rick Riordan The Lightning Thief 87,223
George Orwell Nineteen Eighty-Four 88,942
Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird 100,388
Mark Twain The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 109,571
Henry David Thoreau Walden 114,634
Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities 135,420
Stephen King Pet Sematary 141,912
John Steinbeck The Grapes of Wrath 169,481
JK Rowling Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 198,227
JK Rowling Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 257,154
Stephen King It 437,781

Finishing School: The Happy Ending to That Writing Project You Can’t Seem to Get Done by Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton (2017)

Finishing School

Finishing School: The Happy Ending to That Writing Project You Can’t Seem to Get Done
by Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton
Tarcher Perigee, 2017

The title of this book grabbed me immediately. Of course I have a writing project that I can’t seem to get done. I’ve had this idea bouncing around my head since I was a junior in high school, over twenty years ago. I’ve started it several times, and I have finished one version of it, but it didn’t feel right and I have (in my mind) tinkered with it more and more. But here’s the rub: I haven’t touched it in nearly three years. Do I want to finish it? Absolutely. Do I know how to do that? Absolutely not.

This is where Finishing School comes in. Cary Tennis, the creator of the concept, and Danelle Morton, one of his first Finishing School pupils, do not tell you how to write your book, but how to finish it. This isn’t a typical writing book. There is nothing said about characterization or plot or point of view or voice. It’s all about getting it done. Quantity over quality (because quality comes after quantity is achieved). Tennis notes that regret often comes from failure to try. He writes, “It doesn’t hurt so much if you tried and failed. It does not weigh so heavily on the conscience. But failure to try can really haunt you. So try, at least.”

The authors begin by addressing “The Six Emotional Pitfalls” which cause many aspiring writers to simply give up, and how to acknowledge those struggles and move past them as you do your work. Again, Finishing School is not about how to make your writing better, but simply how to finish it. After addressing the emotional obstacles many writers face, Tennis and Morton explain the concept and execution of Finishing School, and how it differs from traditional writing groups. “The issue we tackle is not the is not the quality of the work on any given Tuesday but the habit of writing….Finishing School’s sole focus is the steady application of time to the craft, every week reinforcing the qualities and habits necessary to one day saying that you are done.”

Time management plays a major role in the program. The aspiring writer has to state clear goals and set aside a sufficient amount of time to accomplish them during the week. Some will commit more time than others, but if one is not willing to carve out a slice of the clock for writing, is there really any commitment present? This has been a major problem for me, and Finishing School has encouraged me to take an honest look at both my writing and my desire to write.

Tennis and Morton also teach the reader how to create a Finishing School with other local writers, either one-on-one or a group. The authors finish their book with a section titled, “Finishing,” including a look at John Steinbeck’s self-torture while he wrote the classic, The Grapes of Wrath. Every author, no matter how accomplished, faces similar emotional pitfalls. But one thing is certain: “If finishing this project is something you really want to do, you have to go after it with everything you have within you.”

More of a motivational book than a “how to write” book, Finishing School just might give you the push you need to get back into that long-neglected novel/screenplay/poetry/short story anthology/whatever-project-you-have-not-looked-at-in-years. Before reading Finishing School, I last looked at my draft almost three years ago. Now I am looking at my calendar to determine the best time for me to tackle it again.

Learn more about Tarcher Perigee.

Purchase Finishing School: The Happy Ending to That Writing Project You Can’t Seem to Get Done by Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton.

Monkeys With Typewriters by Scarlett Thomas (2017)

Monkeys with Typewriters

Monkeys With Typewriters
by Scarlett Thomas
Soft Skull Press, 2017

Dissatisfied with telling her creative students to “just write,” author Scarlett Thomas attempted to teach the deeper topics of literary theory to help them write better. She began lecturing on these deeper topics, and over time discovered that she had enough material for a book on writing. Monkeys With Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories is an excellent look at both the theory and practice of storytelling.

Thomas begins by examining a variety of literary works as well as Hollywood storylines, from Plato to Aristotle, Pride and Prejudice to Great Expectations, The Matrix to Toy Story. After reviewing numerous examples, Thomas summarizes the eight basic plots found in literature before launching into the “practice” portion of her book. She introduces the concept of using matrices in planning a novel, including categories that utilize what you know, what you think, and where you live, among others. She includes a blank matrix with further questions that the aspiring novelist can use to develop their own characters and worlds.

After discussing the value of the matrix, Thomas delves into styles of narration and the choices beyond first and third person, characterization and the importance of loving all your characters, and the value of writing good sentences, an area I continue to struggle with in my own writing. In the final chapter of the “practice” section, the author encourages the reader to become an author, to write a novel, to actually put into practice what they have just read. She offers a number of tips on note taking and brainstorming, drafting, and even offers a checklist of questions to ask yourself about your work.

Perhaps the most interesting and important question is this: “If the only copy of my novel was stranded on the top of a mountain, would I go up to rescue it?” The depth of that questions hits hard, but if you have poured your heart and soul into your creation, how could you possibly answer, “No”?

For those who cannot shake the desire to write, Monkeys With Typewriters might just give you the motivation, encouragement, and guidance you need to start tapping those keys.

Purchase Monkeys With Typewriters by Scarlett Thomas.

Garner’s Modern English Usage: Fourth Edition by Bryan Garner (2016)

Garner’s Modern English Usage: Fourth Edition
by Bryan Garner
Oxford University Press, 2016
1,120 pages

There are certain resource materials that every writer must possess in his arsenal, including a dependable dictionary and thesaurus. Words are the building blocks of language, and a dictionary and thesaurus will assist in putting one’s thoughts together in an understandable manner. Whether one is using those words appropriately, however, is another matter. In his massive Garner’s Modern English Usage: Fourth Edition, linguist Bryan Garner addresses the proper way to put words together.

In addition to more than 6,000 entries on grammar, syntax, punctuation, style, and more, Garner addresses the battle between prescriptive linguists and descriptive linguists. Prescribers are known to suggest how language should be used, while describers simply observe and report on how it is used. Garner falls more into the prescriptive camp, though he concedes there are some battles lost long ago that should not be resurrected. Garner does report on how language is used, utilizing modern tools such as Google’s ngrams to make this one of the most reliable linguistic guides ever, but he does not shy away from denouncing improper usage when needed.

As a resource, Garner’s Modern English Usage: Fourth Edition is a valuable tool. Not as indispensable as a standard dictionary or thesaurus, but it is a fantastic tool that can be used to give one’s writing more accuracy.

Learn more about Oxford University Press.

Purchase Garner’s Modern English Usage: Fourth Edition by Bryan Garner.

LOYO, Obamacar, and otter café: new words in

The most recent update to sees a host of new words added from the worlds of politics, popular culture, and social media. You can see ten highlights from the update below. In each case, clicking on the word will take you through to the word’s new dictionary entry, where you can see full definitions, example sentences, and more.

autocorreck verb (of software) cause (text) to contain mistakes by means of an autocorrect or autocomplete function: “I wrote a great text to her, but ‘love’ was autocorrecked to ‘move’.”
[Blend of autocorrect and wreck]

parrotocracy noun a hypothetical society governed by people selected according to their ability to repeat slogans and soundbites mechanically, or to repeat or steal the policies and ideas of others: “Heaven help us if we end up with a parrotocracy.”
[from parrot and -cracy]


reply-gall noun the perceived impudence of an individual who sends an email response to everyone addressed in the original message: “His reply-gall became infamous after he sent an 1800-word response to a company-wide announcement.”
[from reply + gall after reply-all]

Instayam noun a Thanksgiving photograph shared on social media: “Before we ate, we had to send an Instayam.”
[blend of Instagram and yam]

Leo verb to achieve something after years of trying: “I feel like I’ve Leoed this morning; I finally passed my driving test.”
[from the name of Leonardo DiCaprio, with allusion to his winning the 2016 Academy Award for Best Actor after six unsuccessful nominations.]

fanishment noun the state of being blocked by a celebrity on social media: “Steve’s fanishment was inevitable after he tweeted at the star footballer 1000 times in a single day.”
[blend of fan and banishment]

Obamacar noun (humorous) a hypothetical scheme under which current President of the United States Barack Obama would provide free cars for every citizen in America: “Republican commentators cracked wise about the so-called Obamacar.”
[from Obama + car, after Obamacare]


otter café noun a café or similar establishment where people pay to interact with otters housed on the premises: “Locals are already excited by the prospect of the area’s first otter café.”

LOYO abbreviation laughing on your own (used online in reply to a joke that others have not found amusing): “A better joke next time, please. LOYO.”

social fleedia noun a situation in which one or more social media users choose to close their accounts: “Commentators are seeing a huge rise in millennials encouraging social fleedia.”

“Social media continues to be a vital and constantly evolving catalyst for linguistic innovation,” says Richard Snary, a lexicographer at Oxford Dictionaries. “We’re recognizing this with words which specifically reference these sites, such as Instayam, fanishment, and social fleedia, but Twitter also accounts for much of our corpus data for Obamacar, LOYO, and the verb to Leo. In two of these examples, we’re seeing how the creation and sharing of memes relating to a specific public figure can quickly gain traction and help a coinage enter the language – and our language monitoring programme is uniquely placed to observe and record these changes.”

[JT sez: I think they have gone too far this time. When will the idiocy stop?]

%d bloggers like this: